Google Adds Wrinkle to EMR Business Model

A small vendor of “on-demand” health-IT applications reports getting literally thousands of e-mails from interested parties in the first few days after offering “free,” advertising-supported electronic medical records (EMR) for independent physician practices.

“It was much better than anticipated,” says Ryan Howard, founder and chief executive of Practice Fusion, of the initial response to an offer made last week in conjunction with a first-of-its-kind arrangement with Google’s online advertising service.

A Google spokesman says that this is not the long-anticipated major entry into healthcare for the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet search giant. “This shouldn’t be interpreted as a product move on Google’s part,” says Brandon McCormick. “This is not any more [of a business relationship] than we would make for any other mid-size company. What they do is give us keywords that we match advertising to.”

Specifically, Practice Fusion is relying on the Google AdSense program to generate on-screen ads meant to be directly relevant to physician users, Howard says. Though hundreds of thousands of Web sites seek extra revenue through a standard agreement with AdSense, Practice Fusion is taking advantage of an AdSense program that allows businesses to have greater control over the ads provided to its customers.

While San Francisco-based Practice Fusion is not the first company to take the risk of EMR investment away from medical practices, few, if any, other vendors have had a product completely supported by advertising. “This is pretty unique in the marketplace,” says Howard. (See “ECDS Offers Money-Back Guarantee on EMR System” and “Athenahealth Launches ‘Back Office’ for Small Practices.”)

Google also released an official statement: “Practice Fusion has recently joined Google’s AdSense program to place ads on their web pages. AdSense helps hundreds of thousands of publishers effectively monetize online content in just about every vertical category that exists on the web.  Practice Fusion’s participation in our AdSense program is not exclusive and should not be read as an indication of any product plans by Google.”

“We control everything [users] see” by focusing on keywords specific to each physician, says Howard. Practice Fusion is customizing the Google AdSense application programming interface (API) for integration into the Flash-based EMR according to Howard.

To date, two-year-old Practice Fusion has marketed its application service provider (ASP)-type claims-management and practice-management software to managed care organizations and physicians affiliated with independent practice associations (IPAs) and other large operations. “We sell to communities, typically,” Howard says, providing a platform for physicians to share medical records and administrative data.

The company founder says that the Flash architecture takes away any setup and integration issues on the user end. “Our product needs very little overhead support,” according to Howard.

Practice Fusion promises a personal health record for patients later this year.

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